Monday, November 09, 2009

Hope but verify: Health care reform, historic moments and the Democratic Party

The passage of the health care reform by the House of Representatives is an historic and important moment. Josh Marshall gives the safe and convention take on it in One Vote on Health Care Reform TPM 11/08/09. But the Stupak Amendment taking another step toward banning women's right to decide on abortion is a reminder that it's not done until it's done. Tbogg calls the Stupak Amendment the Vagina Added Tax. So my new personal slogan for health care, Obama and the Democrats generally is "hope but verify".

Health care has to pass the Senate and be signed by the President. Obama's leadership in those last crucial days before the House vote was aimed, so far as we know from the news reporting, at pushing the liberal Democrats to still make concessions to the corporate Blue Dogs, even on something so essential as the public option, without which the bill would be a corporate gift that wouldn't provide adequate coverage and would actually be an unpopular program for consumers. And on the Stupak Amendment, the White House apparently cared not the least if women's rights had to be sacrificed to make a last-minute concession to Christian Rightists who will never support Obama anyway.

To be respectable in the Beltway Village, Democrats always have to slap a hippie (i.e., vote for something conservative even though they'll never get conservative votes for doing so)

Digby in The Lesson Hullabaloo 11/08/09 anaylzes the Stepak Amendment as reflecting the leaden insistence of the Beltway Village consensus that progressive political ideas cannot be validated as such. We call call the mainstream left-of-center position "liberal" in the United States in a usage going back to the post-First World War era that would be eccentric is pretty much the whole rest of the world. In the new "center-right" coalition in Germany, the conservative part is "center" and the liberal party (that is actually one of the parties in the Liberal International) is the "right" part of the coalition.

But in the US, it's perfectly acceptable thinking within the Republican Party to conflate left and liberal and communist and fascist and socialist and Nazi into one undifferentiated image of evil. So the best improvement in generic political labeling we can probably hope for in the US right now is to have more Democrats and progressive activists legitimize the basic concepts we call progressive or liberal in the US, such as defending the people against anti-social exercises of corporate power like the current insurance industry attempt to block health care reform.

Digby in her piece is addressing one of the peculiarities of the current political moment. The need for New Deal, Great Society, "liberal" types programs and political leadership is more clear and urgent and potentially very popular now than at any time at least since 1964 and possibly since 1932. We're in the middle of what Jerry Brown might call a "democratic moment", in which popular pressure is focused on having government respond realistically to real needs. These moment can last for months or years. But they don't last forever.

So in the abstract, it seems that raw ambition and opportunism would be inspiring Democratic politicians to sound like latter-day Franklin Roosevelts and Bob La Follettes. Instead, we've got the Democratic Party having to be pulled kicking and screaming into health care reform, which is not only popular and necessary but has the obvious potential to provide the basis of Democratic Party political dominance for decades.

Obviously, the dependence of our political system on huge amounts of corporate money is part of the explanation. But there is also a psychological-ideological aspect of the dilemma that can't just be explained by cynically assuming that big money dominates politics and always will, a favorite position of "concern troll" commenters at leftie blogs. The collapse in quality of our national press is a huge factor in this, as well. The fact that Rupert Murdoch has such an enormous presence in news media in the Anglo-Saxon world is no small matter when it comes to having a corporate-friendly spin on the news. But again, the dysfunction of our star journalists can't be explained by some rational corporate lobbying function. Their groupthink is just too bizarrely weird to be fully explained that way.

Digby gives a good description of how the current political environment in Congress, despite the national popular mood, is heavily weighted toward shafting the "liberal" position in exactly the way we say play out with the Stupak Amendment:

Universal health care is something any decent, wealthy society shouldn't even have to think twice about. It's a global embarrassment that the United States, the chest thumping superpower, is even having this debate at this late date. It's equally embarrassing that we have put together a Frankenstein of a system [for health care reform] because our democratic government is in league with wealthy interests which are exploiting its people. It's hard to believe that anyone would call that system liberal, much less socialist, but as you can see every day on Fox news, it's set off a tantrum among a vocal minority that would hardly be less hysterical if aliens from a foreign planet landed in Washington. (And that hysteria is also a tool of the permanent establishment, funded by big money, and used as a way of keeping the debate focused on the right, even if it's taking on an absurdist quality.)

Any legislation such as health care reform must therefore be tempered by a liberal sacrifice, something real, a principle that will make them hate themselves and loathe each other for having done it. It cannot be a clean victory, lest they come to believe they can do more. In the end, the "moral" must always be that you cannot go too far left. [my emphasis]
"The one consistent characteristic" of policy victories for liberal/progressive Democrats over the past 20 years, she writes, "is that they are never unambiguously positive for the left."

Ann Friedman at Tapped talks about the implications of the Sestak Amendment vote in Whose Health Care Victory? 11/08/09.

For Obama's next "historic achievement", can we not make reducing women's rights part of it?

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